At Rumi, our spices are only half the story. Our company has been deeply rooted in mission from day one, with our veteran founders setting out to make an impact during their time deployed in Afghanistan. To this day, the core mission of supporting agriculture and local economies in Afghanistan drives us, and we want to thank our founders as veterans for their service to this mission.
We asked two of our founders, Keith Alainz and Kimberly Jung, about their journeys since founding Rumi, what Rumi and its mission means to them, and how Rumi has remained a part of their lives.
Tell us a little bit about your journey since Rumi was founded. How have you stayed involved with the mission?
Keith Alainz: It has been a long journey since starting Rumi in 2014 and it is amazing to see how far the company has come. What started out as a crazy idea - hoping we could impact a handful of farmers in Afghanistan - has grown to impact hundreds of farmers, thousands of women, and is the leading Afghanistan agricultural importer to the US.
Since leaving Rumi full-time I continue to serve as a Board Director and remain heavily involved in the Afghanistan-US business community. I am currently working for Google where I develop supply chains in much the same way we developed an Afghanistan supply chain, with a focus on deep relationships with our suppliers, while creating impact in communities and equitable economic opportunities across a global program.
Kimberly Jung: Rumi Spice has been a dream for us since its inception – given our experiences in Afghanistan as deployed soldiers, we grew to love the people and the land and wanted to find a way to contribute to Afghanistan. We started Rumi Spice to empower Afghan farmers and women workers to be connected to the international marketplace through saffron. Since I left as CEO in 2018, I’ve continued to stay in contact with our Afghan partners and farmers and evangelize the mission of Rumi Spice to friends and family. Rumi has also been an inspiration to many other entrepreneurs who want to start businesses in other war-torn countries, and I’ve been fortunate to share my experiences with them to help them grow.
What does the preservation of Afghan culture & community mean to you?
KJ: Afghan culture is one of hospitality and family. Never have I been so welcomed than in Afghanistan, where they welcome you as family and treat you as one of their own.
KA: One thing Afghans and military veterans share in common, our narrative is often written for us. For the veteran, we are often painted as broken, needing a hand out, or carrying an unspoken burden. For the Afghan it is coming from a broken country, needing hand-outs, and recently, of the inevitable fall of the country to the Taliban. Neither could be further from the truth. When I think of both Afghans and veterans the word that comes to mind is resilience, determination, and a deep humanity and understanding of the human condition.
Rumi isn't alone in our mission- How can our customers continue to support local Afghan economies even from the comfort of their homes?
KJ: The best thing we can do is to support a for-profit social enterprise where the business is sustainable. When it is a sustainable business, it does not rely on donations and treats its farmers and workers as business partners and valued members of the supply chain rather than recipients of charity. This is important to bring Afghanistan as an equal partner to the international market.
KA: It is by supporting businesses like Rumi Spice, Dose Saffron Water, and Combat Flip Flops. You can also help spread the word about Afghanistan and encourage friends to buy Afghan. If every household in the US purchased one product from Afghanistan we would have a much more significant and direct impact.
What’s your favorite Rumi spice or blend? Do you have a favorite dish to cook with Rumi spices?
KJ: My favorite Rumi blend is the Afghan [Curry Braise] blend. It’s got a rich, earthy taste that lends so much depth of flavor to beef and sautéed onions. The cardamom, clove, and of course, saffron, elevate the rustic flavors of the spice blend, which is mostly black pepper and cumin. I’ve even made brownies with the Afghan blend – it was terrific!
KA: When walking in Kabul one day I recognized a delicious aroma coming from a neighborhood house. It reminded me of my grandmother's cooking. I asked my Afghan colleague what it was, he took me to a shop and showed me what he called zira, what I knew as comino, and what most Americans call cumin. I am extremely proud that years later we have begun importing this spice and can share the incredible flavor of Afghan wild black cumin with people across the US. It is by far my favorite Rumi spice to cook with and I use it with anything I would normally use comino with (which is everything). I also love the Southwest Chilli blend for chilli of course but also for marinades during grilling season. I use the Berbere for hamburgers and the Kabul Piquant for chicken recipes. Of course I use Rumi Saffron in paellas, risottos, and to drink as tea. This journey of creating Rumi Spice has awakened a nascent foodie and wannabe home chef in me!
We want to thank all of our veterans for their service, and to show our gratitude to our founders and their continued support of Rumi. You can support Afghan communities by shopping for some of our favorite Rumi Spices below. As a certified B-Corporation, we promise to meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability and aspire to use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.